Money Saving Tips: “Use-By” vs “Sell-By” vs “Best if Used By”

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We’ve all seen “sell-by”, “use-by”, and “best if used by” on all of the food products you buy from the supermarket.

But what’s the difference between each one?

Here’s how the USDA defines them:

  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
I just got some hummus at the store that was half off because I bought it on the “Sell-By” date.
It tasted great and I just ate it before the “Use-By” date.

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  • Traci

    I have a teenaged daughter that is super concerned about expiration dates on food. I am a lot less so. A few days ago she had to put together an emergency kit for our vehicle for a school assignment. I gave her some water packets that I had on hand for an emergengy. She was horrified that they were expired, by several years! I told her that water does not expire, it might taste a little funky though. I’d rather have expired water if I was in an emergency where water was scarce. My husband went on to tell her about a time he ran out of gas in the middle of no where many years ago. He said he was seriously considering drinking out of an algae ridden stream, he got so thirsty. I think he would have loved to have some “expired” water!

  • Heather

    I seriously think its funny that water can have an expiration date!

  • Jennifer

    I think we should be clear though that EXPIRATION dates are dates not to mess with unless you are very familiar with the product and feel comfortable knowing if/when the product has soured.

    BUT there are a great deal of groceries that can be frozen so as to live past their best befores (provided that they are frozen at least a few days before their use by date) — these include shredded cheese, egg whites, bread, most veg/fruit (flash freeze using a shallow pan), meats, and even some dairy — though, high-fat dairy products may separate when thawed.

  • Nora

    I believe water does expire. I would probably filter it again before use, or purify it. For years, while canning, I used jars of plain water to weight the tray, and bring the water level up when I had a partial batch. Now, keep in mind the jars and lids were sterilized, and the water in the jars was canned probably hundreds of times. A month ago, while cleaning out that area of the garage, my husband called me out there. He showed me the jars, which all had things growing in them. They were different colors, green, pink and brown.

    Since I saw that, I’ll not assume that packaged water is fit to consume, just because it is sealed. I am particular about cleanliness while canning. A manufacturer may have government guidelines to go by, but they can’t control the safety of expired products, anymore than I could.

    • Jen

      Actually, if you processed the jars more than once in a water bath, they unsealed and resealed several times. That will introduce bacteria into the water and grow lots of interesting things. That’s the main reason you can’t re-use canning jar lids. The more they are processed the more likely they are to fail.

      That said, I also think it would be best to filter or boil “old” water before use…it just makes sense.

  • Rebecca

    How do we know how much time we have to use something after we buy it if it has a “Sell By” date? Do you have a resource for that?

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